Cara Luft has always been a visionary. It was 1995, long before it become fashionable (and economically necessary) for musicians and artists to leave Calgary, when Luft moved to Vancouver and, eventually, Winnipeg. She’s been there almost nine years now in spite of the admitted fact that Winnipeg doesn’t possess either the geographical beauty of her hometown or her beloved bike paths. Still, it is obvious that she doesn’t regret having made the move. Life in Calgary is “insane,” she says. “(Winnipeg) doesn’t have a big-city vibe, and you have to create your own fun,” but there are benefits. “Rents are affordable,” for one. Musicians can even own their own homes. Try doing that in Calgary.
Another perk of living in Winnipeg is both geographical and psychological. Because the city is centrally located, “in your head it becomes feasible to drive to Toronto or Vancouver,” Luft says. “It is only a 24-hour drive either way.” As a result, touring is more practical, which is something Luft has become intimately familiar with. It wasn’t that long ago that she completed a tour of the British Isles. Her current cross-Canada tour is scheduled to last nearly three months, and she was just in these parts at the beginning of August. In more ways than one, she has come a long way from the house concerts in her parents’ basement that started her career 20 years ago.
Maybe the greatest journey, emotionally at least, has occurred since Luft left the Wailin’ Jennys a few years ago. In her latest album, The Light Fantastic, Luft details what she went through when she left that band
“I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted,” she says. “These are honest songs about how I was feeling at the time, and the truth is that sometimes you have to go through those periods in order to come out the other side.”
Saying goodbyes and coming out the other side is the subject of “The Light.” One of the last songs on the album, it tries to bring all of the album’s themes back together and wrap them up neatly. Cara calls it a song of hope. “The message of the song is that you shouldn’t be afraid of the unknown. No matter how bleak things are, you’ll find your way home.”
That doesn’t mean that home will be what you thought it was. It might, like the album, be very different from what you expected. Luft has made a conscious choice to seek out a new, rockier sound, most obviously in her choice to have 54-40 vocalist Neil Osbourne produce the CD. “I wanted to work with someone who had no preconceived notions of what folk music was or could be,” Luft explains. “Neil had that different, new, fresh perspective that I wanted. When I was with the Jennys we would sometimes record a single track as many as 25 times in order to get everything perfect. With Neil, it wasn’t about perfection. His focus was on the feel and spontaneity of the music. If we couldn’t record it in three takes then it wasn’t recorded.”
Working with Neil also allowed Luft to explore some of her musical influences, and he encouraged her to play guitar. “I wanted to hire someone to play lead guitar, but he insisted that I do it. I think he said that ‘you have the spirit of Jimmy Page.’” The former folky laughs as she brushes off the compliment. “I’m not so sure about the comparison,” she says.